Preview: ASUS Eee PC1201PN with NVIDIA Ion 2 - Updated!

ION Cannon Redux?

ION Cannon Redux?

When Intel released its Pine Trail platform for its latest Atom netbooks, it looked like it was game over for NVIDIA's Ion platform. As far as Intel was concerned, the newer Pine Trail platform simplified things by integrating the memory and graphics controller onto the same die as the CPU (codenamed Pineview but more readily known as the Atom N450) , which meant that there was no need for another graphics controller like in the older Atom platform (such as the N270 and N280 variants which popularly represent this segment).

For NVIDIA though, this seemed like a slap in the face, given how they still haven't managed to get a license for the Arrandale (mobile Core i7, i5, i3) processors and now they can't supply the chipsets for the Atom platform anymore. So instead, they've redefined the Ion platform and changed it from a chipset with better integrated graphics to a discrete graphics option for netbooks. Now, you might be wondering, why would netbooks need a discrete graphics solution?

That's because Intel's integrated graphics still lacks the performance punch, especially when it comes to handling high definition Adobe Flash video. While there exists a stopgap solution in the form of a Broadcom Crystal HD chip that may come with a select few netbooks, the lack of such functionality built-in does mean that NVIDIA has a way back into the netbook market again. The next generation Ion (formerly known as Ion 2) does basically everything the original Ion did, but now comes with NVIDIA's Optimus technology.

We managed to get our hands on an early netbook build with NVIDIA's next generation Ion, and this time, it's the ASUS Eee PC 1201PN. It's a 12-inch netbook that comes with a top-end configuration of a dual-core Intel Atom D510 and NVIDIA's updated Ion for discrete graphics. Unfortunately, our test unit came equipped with an Intel Atom N450 processor instead. For now, let's take a quick look at this upcoming netbook.

If you find the ASUS Eee PC 1201PN looking very familiar, that's because it's sharing the same chassis as the previous ASUS Eee PC 1201N, which was a netbook equipped with the original NVIDIA Ion platform and a dual-core Intel Atom 330.

** Updated as of 23rd April 2010, 5pm **

We've just been informed that the ASUS Eee PC 1201PN come in various Atom CPU configurations like the D410, N450 and D510. But more importantly, this netbook will NOT support NVIDIA's Optimus technology as they are aiming to be the first in the market with the next generation Ion graphics engine. Additionally note that netbooks with next generation Ion using Windows 7 Starter will also not feature Optimus technology; only those using Windows 7 Home Premium like the Eee PC 1201PN have this feature support as an option. An Optimus equipped version of the ASUS Eee PC 1201PN will follow later this quarter of the year.

It looks like your usual ASUS Eee PC Seashell, except that it's much wider. The entire unit is glossy and a fingerprint magnet, so be warned.

The insides too remain much of the same and sticks to a simple design without cluttering the extra available space.

The keyboard was generally fine, but it was the trackpad buttons that left us irritated. We have no issues with the raised textured trackpad, but the buttons were a chore to depress. Hopefully this is fixed in the retail version for a more satisfying and usable experience.

With NVIDIA's updated Ion engine on board, the unit is capable of rendering 1080p resolution HD Flash videos with no problems. GPU load was around 40% and CPU load was around 90% when loading and playing the video but dropped down to 50% after the video was cached while GPU load remained much of the same. Stay tuned in the near future for our full review with more performance details.

 The ASUS netbook will not feature NVIDIA's Optimus as yet; the Optimus equipped version will only be available later this quarter of the year.

This is what it should look like with a system supporting Optimus technology and Optimus enabled drivers installed. Note the Run with graphics processor option (image taken from our previous article linked above).